I came into publishing at probably the most misleading time of the last hundred years. Yeah, that sounds like a good excuse.
When I started chronicling in 2008, I was following the pure desire to make something of these tales I had bound up inside me. I identified with not just paper pub, but the traditional route to it– getting an agent, breezing through one of the Big 5, the book tour, the fame, the groupies. Forty rejections later I woke up, admitted fantasy was the genre, not the life-path. But I kept chronicling, that’s the thing. If I thought about my future as anything I had control over, it was of course going to be in all media, analog and digital, video and audio. The movie, particularly, I really grooved on that.
By the time I started publishing it was summer of 2011. What we tentatively called Year 4 AK (After Kindle). Remember? People were going to convert completely to e-readers, just a matter of months. Print was DEAD, I tell you, everyone knew that. And I had tablet envy bad. I self-published my first four tales in digital format, and figured I was done. What loser would chase paper? Paper books were supposed to be the new Betamax (yeah, I know) or like 8-tracks, vinyl records. As in, you only saw them in movies. Black and white movies. I read all kinds of stuff on my PC, even on my tiny smartphone. As old as I am, I can say with honesty I’ve gotten used to screen reading, it’s pretty normal for me now. More on that below.
But the revolution I expected, that lack of e-reader I was still so jealous about? Didn’t really happen, did it. Hey, not the first time I’ve been a fool. I did what many of you did, only in my case it involved less time and talent. Flogged my platform, made announcements, kept chronicling, tried new things like a trailer, blog tour, writing about cool stuff. Hoping to catch fire somewhere. But still thinking entirely in digital.
You can probably see where this is going. My publisher gets me under contract (best piece of paper I’ve signed since my marriage license), and right away she starts talking crazy. How the next book, the big one, the once-trunk novel Judgement’s Tale should come out not only as novellas, but after the e-books, also in paper.
And I thought– paper? That dead organic stuff? It was this moment that I woke up (again) and really understood what others were shouting, that the Big 5 weren’t going to fold, and that paper books served a purpose for many people. Um, in fact, the vast majority. The rest is fast becoming history. People responded to JT in print quite viscerally, and my sales are starting to count with people I regard now the way an ERB hero would discovering a lost race. Paper book reader, I presume?
Circling Back to the Future (of Reading)
Definition of irony: I have a tablet now.
That e-reader I was always chasing is now in my grasp, every day, and I still do much more reading on it than in any paper form. But I realize it’s not the predestined winner in any near future on this planet. Most of my energy these days, outside of writing the next one, is focused on what’s going to happen to my tales in paper. My publisher is taking good care of that, and this opens up a world of possibilities at libraries, book fairs, maybe signings. Meeting real folks, shaking hands and giving out business cards, letting them thumb through the pages and hearing them ask the Dread Question (“So, what’s this one about?”). Because I have books in paper, no thanks to me.
What’s an e-reader for then? As an author, how to use it to improve your reach or your art?
I have several answers for you, things that have worked for me and which I recommend:
Come to it for the Cheap
Tablets and e-readers are becoming very affordable, and if you play your cards right you can basically steal one. I got my current tablet when we took Genna into the carrier store to get her a smartphone (at long last! she’s 18). We knew that college required her to stay in touch via email, Twitter, etc. so we put her together with an iPhone5. Genna mentions to the clerk the old household joke about how her Dad has tablet envy, and he says “you know, you can get a tablet for ninety-nine cents”. Yeah, it requires a data plan, but Genna and I share 1 Gb apiece and I lock the account so it just stops when we get close. Wi-Fi, we love you. And if you take a Kindle with a year of Amazon Prime, Jeff Bezos will personally fly to your house via drone and buff your toenails, or something pretty close.
Stay for the Stuff
There’s hardly any such thing as an e-reader anymore, everything is multifunctional, including Kindles and even Nooks (though admittedly, not as much). I gauge what to bring when leaving the house, based on how much idle time I’ll have. Laptop for writing, tablet for reading: the former weighs a couple pounds and goes in a padded case (belongs to my employer), the latter fits in my jacket pocket and I forget I’m carrying it. So what? So check your email, catch up on blog posts and reading related to your work as an improving author. Think of the cyber-things you can’t do because you’re not at your desk; even research for your next book. I have a couple of games too, of course. Because games! No worries– I know my mind is continuing to integrate thoughts on the WiP in the background.
Round Up the Usual Advantages
Just because paper books refused to do the decent thing doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from having a library in your pocket. I have free online e-book copies of everything I’ve done for my “Classics You’ve Never Read” series. A few touches to reach any book, any chapter; I know reading it in a spine is more fun but what if you just want to find that place where Jonathan Harker said goodbye in his last letter to Mina? You seriously going to argue you can do that more easily? A book on tablet has choice of fonts, and you can alter the SIZE (oh boy, that’s key for a guy who forgot to bring his reading glasses) as well as the background light (eye damage? what idiot reads in bed with the setting on daytime brightness? Two taps). You can read seven other books and come right back to where you were (bookmarks), you can tap to define a word (online dictionary), you can Copy and make notes (easier on your PC, but it’s all the same to the Kindle app). You invested a boatload of hours getting used to reading on a PC. It’s like riding a bike, you just have to spend a little time to get used to it. And watch out for trees.
The Occasional Surprise
The tablet has also proved useful to me in one other, rather sneaky way. As I became accustomed to reading on screen, I also realized it was sometimes tough for me to proof, or scan my drafts for polishing purposes. I re-read my stuff repeatedly when I’m drafting, it’s like the bobsled guys rocking back and forth in the track before the next run. But between the time when I THINK it’s ready and when it actually is… I’ve realized I can “self-pre-publish”! Just take the draft in document form and send it to your screenname @ kindle.com, and it shows up in your library!
Honestly, you won’t believe how much more seriously you take your own works when they LOOK like “the real thing”. The Kindle has become so much second-nature to me that I find myself automatically treating the draft like published work. It gives me confidence in what I’ve done well, and exposes what still needs redress even more clearly. And the PC can stay at home until I actually-factually decide to rewrite it.
So long live paper. And get a tablet anyway.